The implementation of fifth generation mobile telephony is advancing by leaps and bounds around the world and expectations about its technical potential are already becoming a reality. However, it will take several years before this technology is fully implemented globally.
Transferring data at a higher speed, connecting several devices simultaneously and playing with a latency of less than 5 milliseconds are some of the major advantages that millions of users will be able to enjoy with these powerful networks. According to Statista, it is expected that by 2025, about 14% of global mobile network accesses will be through 5G. Additionally, it profiles Europe to have a greater development in new technologies, calculating 34% during the same time period. Contrastingly, Latin America projects only a 7% penetration, implying there are multiple challenges for the region in terms of infrastructure and connectivity.
How is the implementation of 5G in Latin America progressing?
If we focus on the region, we will see that there are several countries already conducting pilots and fine-tuning their infrastructure to deploy and implement 5G connectivity; although the realities are very different, the road is beginning to be paved:
Since 2017 it has been implementing its 5G network through technical tests with Telcel, one of the most important mobile operators in the country. The same is being developed by AT&T, which started operations in CDMX in 2019.
A very relevant point in the development of the 5G network in Mexico is that it is the only country that currently has the 600 MHz low band spectrum available, which according to the IFT or Federal Telecommunications Institute (Instituto Federal de Telecomunicaciones) would facilitate the coverage of more territories with fewer radio bases.
In addition, the IFT itself is in a race in 2022 to release the spectrum contest in the 600 MHz and 1.5 GHz with mobile operators that are willing to invest, despite the high costs. The value of this tender, which will be for a period of two years, will cost US$326 million.
Brazil ended 2021 with the activation of the first commercial networks with 5G through the operator Claro in the cities of Brasilia and São Paulo; in both cases with 2.3 GHz band, since the 3.5 GHz band is expected to be launched between June and August of this year. The Brazilian government’s revenue from this tender amounted to US$ 8.4 billion.
Claro Brazil defined its 2.3 GHz band as a “wildcard spectrum”, after proving that its powerful technical capabilities, such as high transmission capacity and adaptability, can be used for 5G and 4.5G. After tests on smartphones compatible with 5th generation connection, they recorded speeds of 700 Mbps in the network, without considering the aggregation that the 3.5 GHz spectrum will entail.
The outlook for this country has been varied, since an initial estimate calculated that 5G would be available in this region as of 2020, which was then quickly delayed to 2022 and possibly even to 2023, due to few agreements reached in the bidding stage between the government and private entities.
The agency in charge of this process, the Ente Nacional de Comunicaciones (ENACOM), has the mission of making at least 20% of the medium band spectrum available for 5G, which represents no small challenge, since in terms of infrastructure, this translates to some 40,000 new antennas to required to deliver this project.
A further challenge is staring the 5G coverage at the same time as the consolidation of its 4G coverage, since to date, there is a 70% reach nationwide and this figure is expected to continue increasing. In February 2021, the company Personal, which belongs to Telecom Argentina, installed 10 mobile antennas to provide this service in Buenos Aires and Rosario.
It is in the technical testing stage through local mobile operators such as Claro, Tigo and Movistar, and there are active pilots in Barrancabermeja, Bogota, Cali, Medellin and Tolu, which could be extended this year. According to its authorities, the 3.5 GHz band could be in the implementation stage by the beginning of 2022, which projects that 5G service will be available by 2023.
Chile was the first country in the region to launch a 5G tender and with the largest amount of spectrum (a total of 150 MHz around 1,800 MHz), and according to its authorities, this technology will be available nationwide from 2022 hand in hand with three mobile operators that won the tender; Entel, Movistar and Wom. This resulted in a revenue of US$ 453 million, as reported by the Undersecretariat of Telecommunications (Subsecretaría de Telecomunicaciones or SUBTEL).
Among the infrastructure challenges, the goal is to double the 14,000 antennas for telephone and mobile Internet networks and to cover at least 90% of the population, with territorial equity, within a maximum of two years.
Since March 2021, two local operators, Claro and Entel, have been authorized to implement 5G technology services with 3.5 GHz spectrum.
In the case of Claro it is estimated that it will provide connectivity services to 100 provinces, while Entel will do the same in larger cities such as Arequipa, Ica, Callao, Lambayeque, La Libertad and Lima, as published by the newspaper El Comercio.
The government informed media that the public tender for mobile service in 3.5 and 26 GHz spectrum bands, will be held in 2022.
Although the development of 5G in Latin America is leveraged by large local investments, as reported by Statista, the aforementioned countries will need a total expenditure of US$120 billion to implement this technology throughout their territories, considering a uniform speed of 50 Mbps.
Despite the high cost, the fifth generation of mobile technology could bring multiple benefits to various economic sectors in the region, which will benefit from a more efficient connection that will translate into greater productivity. According to the aforementioned report, Latin America’s gross domestic product could increase by almost US$293 billion in the space of a decade with the optimal deployment of 5G.